Rebels terrify Kashmir poll candidates

Terrified of reprisals by separatists, some newly elected municipal councillors in Indian-administered Kashmir are quitting and apologising to the Islamist rebels for contesting the first civic elections in 27 years.

    Kashmiris voted in civic elections after a gap of 27 years

    Councillors and family members are asking forgiveness from guerrillas in newspaper advertisements in the insurgency-racked region.

      

    "I'm making a passionate promise to every militant group that I will have no relationship whatsoever with politics," said Ghulam Rasul Khan, a councillor, in an ad placed in a daily in Srinagar, summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir.

      

    In the latest political violence on Tuesday, rebels shot a man dead after failing to find his daughter-in-law who was elected councillor, police said.

     

    The rebels have been waging a campaign of intimidation to derail the polls, which are  being staggered to let security forces protect voters.

     

    Sixth round

      

    The sixth of seven rounds is due on Thursday.

     

    Revolt against Indian rule in
    Kashmir has raged since 1989

    Rebels as well as peaceful separatist campaigners oppose any polls in Kashmir, where a revolt against Indian rule has raged since 1989. They say elections are not a substitute for the right to self-determination.

      

    But voters have defied threats and turned out in good numbers to cast ballots in the first five rounds, election officials say. Still, while many voters have been keen, some candidates and their families are scared.

      

    The family of Muhammad Amin, a candidate who lost, sought pardon "for the mistake committed by Amin" in an ad. Other candidates and elected members have been standing up at mosques vowing to have nothing to do with politics.

     

    Bombings

      

    Guerrillas have bombed rallies and killed candidates, party workers and elected officials to scuttle the elections. Those slain include the frontrunner for the Srinagar's mayor job, along with another councillor and two candidates.

      

    "I'm making a passionate promise to every militant group that I will have no relationship whatsoever with politics"

    Ghulam Rasool Khan,
    councillor

    Requests for pardons for "the mistake" of running jumped after last week's killing of Muhammad Maqbul Shah, who was tipped to become Srinagar mayor.

      

    The Peoples Democratic Party-led state government has offered elected officials one guard, but the opposition National Conference says it is not enough. Party leaders say councillors need at least two guards, a bullet-proof car and protected housing.

      

    Failure to protect councillors, sparking their resignations, is an "injustice not only to elected members but to people who voted despite threats," said National Conference president Umar Abd Allah.

      

    While national and state elections had been staged regularly in Kashmir, municipal polls were not held for 27 years - partly because of the revolt, but also due to the previous ruling party's fears of creating a rival power base. The last round will be held in snowbound Leh and Kargil when the ice melts.

    SOURCE: AFP


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